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Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II Review

I doubt that when Mr Stoker wrote a little novel called Dracula in 1897 he could have imagined the bizarre and myriad forms his creations would take over the next century or so. Having single-handedly kickstarted pop-culture’s obsession with all things vampiric, he could arguably be blamed for every transgression upon the original southeastern European folklore, from Twilight to Bloodrayne, to the atrocious Dracula 3000. But it is not just his pointy-fanged antagonist who has become entangled in a never-ending wash-repeat cycle, doomed to an eternity of re-imagining and re-envisioning. The name Van Helsing, originally a tough Dutch doctor named Abraham with no more than a passing knowledge of Transylvanian aristocracy, has become a synonym for Monster Hunter, conjuring images of a leather-clad figure in a wide-brimmed hat and enough firepower to bring down an undead elephant. Blame Hugh Jackman perhaps for his portrayal of a Gabriel Van Helsing, the eponymous hero of 2004’s Van Helsing with which this game shares a strong fraternal bond.

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The lovely Lady Katarina in ‘Beast Mode’

I was therefore not entirely sure what to expect when I booted up the Xbox One and decided to take this, Hungarian indie studio NeocoreGames‘ sequel to their 2013’s PC-based offering, for a spin.

First Things First, What Are We Talking About Here?

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is an isometric action RPG in the worthy tradition of the Diablo franchise (and the much-underrated Nox) in which players don the leather duster of a Christian name-less Van Helsing, son of Stoker’s learned Nederlander, who has been tasked with…something. The game itself takes place in a fictional 19th century steampunk Europe in a country called Borgova which was, until recently, ruled over by a mad scientist named Fulmigati (the big bad from the previous game). With him gone however the power-vacuum has caused a war to break out between the country’s equally mad scientist government run now by a General Harker (no relation) and a human/monster alliance calling themselves The Resistance for whom you work.

I must admit I had not played the original, so was worried that I might be a touch lost at sea, but my fears were allayed by a fairly comprehensive and mercifully brief backstory, narrated by Van himself. I still found myself quite confused as to why I was doing what I was doing, especially as the game leans away from the “show don’t tell” maxim and I found myself running from point A to point B killing faceless enemies for no other reason than they were trying to kill me, as various characters tried to explain what was going on.

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Just as Bram Stoker imagined

Sounds Confusing

It was! But then something wonderful happened. I stopped trying to follow whatever plot-shaped goose I was chasing at that moment and found that I was enjoying myself immensely. The combat system is incredibly deep and customisable with options to play as a death-dealing dervish, shocking enemies with electric blades, or as a master of the firearm delivering explosive murder-bullets from afar. Or lightning bolts. And that’s just with the Hunter character. TIAoVH2 offers players the options of playing a magic-throwing sorcerer or embracing the weapon of the enemy as an arcane engineer, bringing mad science down to bear on, well, mad scientists mostly. Each character class brings with it its own tactics, weaknesses, and specialist loot, seriously enhancing the game’s replayability.

And want to replay it you will. What starts off as a bit of a clumsy shambles quickly finds its footing and turns into an absolutely huge adventure, jam-packed with secrets and rich detail. As well as a solid hack-slash-loot jaunt through a series of well-imagined and interesting locales, there is plenty of side action going on here to keep even the shortest of attention-spans occupied. Once past the first chapter players are given access to Van Helsing’s secret base, a gothic dungeon filled with strange artifacts, handy merchants looking to relieve you off your old loot, and resistance fighters standing around looking for someone to give a quest to. From here you can organise your troops, train your army, send your captains off on their own adventures and generally assist the resistance in their battle against whatever it is that’s happening in this game. Don’t think too much about it; go, craft some stuff, buy a bigger gun and head out to kill some more mechanical zombie giants or whatever!

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Van defends himself against a zombie martian golem. Probably.

And Did I Mention It Was Funny?

It’s hard to get mad at TIAoVH2. I really wanted to be. The writing is incredibly inconsistent, insisting on shattering your sense of immersion at every turn to the point that I was on the verge of setting down the controller and just copy-pasting a review from www.game-larks.lol or wherever. But the relentless jokey snipes and meta-commentary between Van Helsing and his phantasmal sidekick-cum-comic relief the formidable Lady Katarina wore me down. You’ll groan at the bafflingly dated Saving Private Ryan reference, but by the time they’re referencing Angry Birds and Monty Python you’ll be happily chortling into your Xbox controller.

Anything else?

The Xbox One release includes both PvP and Coop multiplayer modes and a scenario mode which unlocks after the main game has been completed and offers bigger challenges and more sweet, sweet loot. Also check out the DLC for extra items, clothes and even a hideous house spirit to follow you about.

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You’ll get no resisting done standing about here, my lads!

So, What Now?

Buy it. It’s a no-brainer (zombie pun!). NeocoreGames may not have produced the most cerebral RPG of the year, but there’s a reason they slap the word ‘action’ at the front there. This game is all about killing enough baddies so you can get better at killing more/bigger/more and bigger baddies, something that it does very well. There is just enough of a story to get you going on your monster-murdering way, but there is so much to do out there and it is all so much fun that it’s very easy to forgive omission of an engaging plot.

For the hack & slasher in you that loves micromanaging the perfect killing machine and has a habit of skipping through the dialogue, treat yourself to The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 is out now from all good video game purveyors.

Played it? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Ben Fee
Ben Fee
Trapped in the past, Ben Fee finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home..........

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